Donald Davidson contributed more deeply to our understanding of language, thought, and reality than perhaps any other recent philosopher. His discussions of skepticism are sometimes seen as peripheral to those contributions. As I read him, Davidson argued against three skeptical worries. First, beliefs are true or false relative to a conceptual scheme. Second, beliefs generally are false. Third, other minds and an external world do not exist. Call those worries ‘conceptual relativism’, ‘falsidicalism’, and ‘solipsism’, respectively. I investigate how Davidson’s arguments (...) are connected. I then show that those connections are so systematic that Davidson ultimately offers a single, master argument with two premises. Premise one is that I think. Premise two is an application of his account of radical interpretation. Focusing on the systematicity of Davidson’s anti-skeptical arguments demonstrates that discussions of skepticism were more central to his views than often appreciated and shines fresh light on his project overall. (shrink)
This is a work in Kantian conceptual geography. It explores issues in analytic epistemology, philosophy of language, and metaphysics by appealing to theses drawn from Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.
What would happen if lightning struck a tree in a swamp and transformed it into The Swampman, or if saving billions of lives required sacrificing millions first? The first is a philosophical thought experiment devised by Donald Davidson, the second a theme from a comic written by Alan Moore. I argue that that comics can be read as containing thought experiments and that such philosophical devises should be shared with students of all ages.
The idea that there are conceptual schemes, relative to which we conceptualize experience, and empirical content, the “raw” data of experience that get conceptualized through our conceptual schemes into beliefs or sentences, is not new. The idea that there are neither conceptual schemes nor empirical content, however, is. Moreover, it is so new, that only four arguments have so far been given against this dualism, with Donald Davidson himself presenting versions of all four. In this paper, I show that in (...) both the general and Davidson’s specific form the first three arguments against scheme-content dualism rely on the fourth. From many there is just one. Then I show that the fate of the first three arguments against scheme-content dualism hangs on that of the fourth. Finally I present four reasons why the fourth argument fails. For the sake of the dualism’s detractors, therefore, one can only hope that forthcoming arguments against scheme-content dualism fare better than those given so far. (shrink)
Philosophers disagree about how meaning connects with history. Donald Davidson, who helped deepen our understanding of meaning, even disagreed with himself. As Ernest Lepore and Kirk Ludwig note, Davidson’s account of radical interpretation treats meaning as ahistorical; his Swampman thought experiment treats it as historical. Here I show that while Lepore and Ludwig are right that Davidson’s views are in tension, they are wrong about its extent. Unbeknownst to them, Davidson’s account of radical interpretation and Swampman thought experiment both rely—in (...) different ways—on the same model of triangulation.I revise one of those ways to resolve the tension within Davidson’s views. I close by detailing what role history should play in Davidson’s views overall. (shrink)
Reason is precariously positioned in the Critique of Pure Reason. The Transcendental Analytic leaves no entry for reason in the cognitive process, and the Transcendental Dialectic restricts reason to noncognitive roles. Yet, in the Appendix to the Transcendental Dialectic, Kant contends that the ideas of reason can be used in empirical investigation and eventually knowledge acquisition. Given what Kant has said, how is this possible? Kant attempts to answer this in A663–A666/B691–B694 in the Appendix, where he argues that principles of (...) reason “have objective but indeterminate validity.” In Part I of this paper, I explain the full motivation behind this section. In Part II, I provide an exegesis of it. In particular, to reach his conclusion that principles of reason have objective but indeterminate validity, I interpret Kant as making three arguments from analogy. Finally, in Part III, I show that the first and third arguments fail—and what this means for Kant’s project. (shrink)
Donald Davidson used triangulation to do everything from explicate psychological and semantic externalism, to attack relativism and skepticism, to propose conditions necessary for thought and talk. At one point Davidson tried to bring order to these remarks by identifying three kinds of triangulation, each operative in a different situation. Here I take seriously Davidson’s talk of triangular situations and extend it. I start by describing Davidson’s situations. Next I establish the surprising result that considerations from one situation entail the possibility (...) that at any one time one language is partially untranslatable into another. Because the possibility is time-indexed, it need not conflict with Davidson’s own argument against the possibility of untranslatability. I derive the result, not to indict Davidson, but to propose a new kind of triangulation, the reconciliation of untranslatability, which I investigate. Insofar as triangulation is central to Davidson’s views, getting a handle on his various triangular situations is key to getting a handle on his contributions to philosophy. Insofar as those contributions have enriched our understanding of how language, thought, and reality interrelate, extending Davidson’s model promises to extend our understanding too. (shrink)
In this paper I illustrate how a basic kind of universal rationality can be profitably combined with undeniable instances of relativism. I do so by engaging Michael Friedman’s recent response to a challenge from Thomas Kuhn.
Plato extends a bold, confident, and surprising empirical challenge. It is implicitly a claim about the psychological — more specifically motivational — economies of human beings, asserting that within each such economy there is a desire to live well. Call this claim ‘psychological eudaimonism’ (‘PE’). Further, the context makes clear that Plato thinks that this desire dominates in those who have it. In other words, the desire to live well can reliably be counted on (when accompanied with correct beliefs about (...) the role of morality or virtue in living well) to move people be virtuous. As we will argue, this general claim appears in not only Plato but Aristotle and the Stoics as well. But it is one we might wonder about, in three ways. First, we might wonder about its warrant. After all, the claim is universal in scope; yet it is about a highly contingent fact about the motivational propensities of individual human organisms, and there is abundant variability in the individual forms human nature takes. What grounds could the ancients have for their confidence that there are no outliers (assuming, as we do, that they do not merely misspeak in framing general claims as universal ones)? Second, we might wonder about its truth. For were it true, it would entail something remarkable about the nature of rationality that we (post-)moderns would be wise to heed. And third, we might wonder about its relationship with normative eudaimonism. By ‘normative eudaimonism’ (‘NE’) we mean the claim that we have conclusive reason to act in ways that conduce to our own eudaimonia. As we will show, the key to these three questions is the first. If we consider what justification the ancients have for their claim, we can see why that claim must be true. Moreover, as we will also show, it must be true because of the nature of practical rationality as the ancients understood it — that is, in terms of normative eudaimonism. We will show this by marshalling unexpected resources: Donald Davidson’s work in understanding how we interpret others and in so doing make sense of them as rational beings. If we couple Davidson’s account of interpretation with the eudaimonist structure of practical rationality essential to these ancient ethical theories, psychological eudaimonism is a consequence. The paper proceeds as follows. In Section I, we lay out the textual basis for ascribing PE to Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics. In Section II, we introduce Davidson’s account of interpretation. This allows us to appropriate that account in Section III to the particular purposes of normative eudaimonism, to support the claim that we must ascribe the desire to live well to those whom we would see as rational. Finally, in Section IV we consider challenges to this strategy. (shrink)
Happy accidents happen even in philosophy. Sometimes our arguments yield insights despite missing their target, though when they do others can often spot it more easily. Consider the work of Donald Davidson. Few did more to explore connections among mind, language, and world. Now that we have critical distance from his views, however, we can see that Davidson’s accomplishments are not quite what they seem. First, while Davidson attacked the dualism of conceptual scheme and empirical content, he in fact illustrated (...) a way to hold it. Second, while Davidson used the principle of charity to argue against the dualism, his argument in effect treats the principle as constitutive of a conceptual scheme. And third, while Davidson asserted that he cannot define what truth ultimately is—and while I do not disagree—his work nonetheless allows us to saymore about truth than Davidson himself does. -/- I aim to establish these three claims. Doing so enriches our understanding of issues central to the history of philosophy concerning how, if at all, to divvy up the mental or linguistic contribution, and the worldly contribution, to knowledge. As we see below, Davidson was right in taking his work to be one stage of a dialectic begun by Immanuel Kant.1 He was just wrong about what that stage is. Reconsidering Davidson’s views also moves the current debate forward, as they reveal a previously unrecognized yet intuitive notion of truth—even if Davidson himself remained largely unaware of it. We begin however with scheme/content dualism and Davidson’s argument against it. (shrink)
W. V. Quine famously argues that though all knowledge is empirical, mathematics is entrenched relative to physics and the special sciences. Further, entrenchment accounts for the necessity of mathematics relative to these other disciplines. Michael Friedman challenges Quine’s view by appealing to historicism, the thesis that the nature of science is illuminated by taking into account its historical development. Friedman argues on historicist grounds that mathematical claims serve as principles constitutive of languages within which empirical claims in physics and the (...) special sciences can be formulated and tested, where these mathematical claims are themselves not empirical but conventional. For Friedman, their conventional, constitutive status accounts for the necessity of mathematics relative to these other disciplines. Here I evaluate Friedman’s challenge to Quine and Quine’s likely response. I then show that though we have reason to find Friedman’s challenge successful, his positive project requires further development before we can endorse it. (shrink)
Philip Pettit has argued that all semantically basic terms are learned in response to ostended examples and all non-basic terms are defined via them. Michael Smith and Daniel Stoljar maintain that this “global response-dependence” entails noumenalism, the thesis that reality possesses an unknowable, intrinsic nature. Surprisingly Pettit acknowledges this, contending instead that his noumenalism, like Kant’s, can be construed ontologically or epistemically. Moreover, Pettit insists, construing his noumenalism epistemically renders it unproblematic. The article shows that construing noumenalism epistemically prevents Pettit (...) from knowing whether members of different communities respond to different properties in the world or the same properties differently. Pettit then faces a trilemma. He can construe noumenalism ontologically and confront Smith and Stoljar’s charge. He can construe noumenalism epistemically and confront the author’s charge. Or he can reject global response-dependence. After explaining why Pettit should choose the middle horn, the article closes with lessons about global response-dependence generally. (shrink)
Some opponents of the incommensurability thesis, such as Davidson and Rorty, have argued that the very idea of incommensurability is incoherent and that the existence of alternative and incommensurable conceptual schemes is a conceptual impossibility. If true, this refutes Kuhnian relativism and Kantian scepticism in one fell swoop. For Kuhnian relativism depends on the possibility of alternative, humanly accessible conceptual schemes that are incommensurable with one another, and the Kantian notion of a realm of unknowable things-in-themselves gives rise to the (...) possibility of humanly inaccessible schemes that are incommensurable with even our best current or future science. In what follows we argue that the possibility of incommensurability of either the Kuhnian or the Kantian variety is inescapable and that this conclusion is forced upon us by a simple consideration of what is involved in acquiring a concept. It turns out that the threats from relativism and scepticism are real, and that anyone, including Davidson himself, who has ever defended an account of concept acquisition is committed to one or the other of these two possibilities.1. (shrink)
I illustrate how a basic kind of universal rationality can be profitably combined with undeniable instances of relativism. I do so by engaging Michael Friedman’s recent response to a challenge from Thomas Kuhn.
RésuméLa parution récente du troisième recueil d'articles de Donald Davidson, lequel devrait être suivi de deux autres, incite à examiner les thèmes qui traversent tousses travaux. Parmices thèmes se trouve leprincipe de charité. Considerant tout le parti que Davidson a tiré du PC, je me propose d'en faire un examen attentif. Dans la première partie, j'examine diverses formulations du PC par Davidson. Dans la seconde partie, je montre que la formulation qu'exigent ses travaux d'epistémologie est intenable étant donné ce qu'il (...) en dit dans ses travaux de sémantique. De là, je conclus que Davidson ne peut se servir du PC que dans ses travaux de sémantique ou pas du tout. (shrink)
Abstract Thomas Kuhn is the most famous historian and philosopher of science of the last century. He is also among the most controversial. Since Kuhn's death, his corpus has been interpreted, systematized, and defended. Here I add to this endeavor in a novel way by arguing that Kuhn can be interpreted as a global response-dependence theorist. He can be understood as connecting all concepts and terms in an a priori manner to responses of suitably situated subjects to objects in the (...) world. Further, I claim, this interpretation is useful for three reasons. First, it allows us to systematize and defend Kuhn's views. We can therefore better appreciate him as a thinker in his own right. Second, it deepens our understanding of both the uniqueness of Kuhn's views and the continuity of those views with those of others. We can therefore better appreciate his place in history. And third, as I explain in the paper, my interpretation affords us the only example of an ethnocentric global response-dependence theory. We can therefore better appreciate the versatility of response-dependence itself. (shrink)
The publication of Davidson 2001, anthologizing articles from the 1980s and 1990s, encourages reconsidering arguments contained in them. One such argument is Davidson's omniscient-interpreter argument ('OIA') in Davidson 1983. The OIA allegedly establishes that it is necessary that most beliefs are true. Thus the omniscient interpreter, revived in 2001 and now 20 years old, was born to answer the skeptic. In Part I of this paper, I consider charges that the OIA establishes only that it is possible that most beliefs (...) are true; if correct, then it is also possibly the case that most beliefs are falseâthe skepticâs very position. Next, I consider two responses on Davidson's behalf, showing that each fails. In Part II, I show that the OIA establishes neither that it is necessarily merely possibly but actually the case that most beliefs are true. I then conclude that this is enough to answer the skeptic. (shrink)
I articulate and argue for a modest use to which philosophers who are not historians of philosophy might put the history of philosophy. That use is in conceptual cartography. I understand conceptual cartography to be the practice of mapping how concepts, including those as complex as philosophical views, relate. Using the history of philosophy in conceptual cartography uses that history to situate landmarks on a conceptual map, and then situates other views (historical or contemporary) relative to those landmarks. After articulating (...) and arguing for this use, I consider objections. (shrink)
Works of science fiction tend to describe hypothetical futures, or counterfactual pasts or presents, to entertain their readers. Philosophical thought experiments tend to describe counterfactual situations to test their readers’ philosophical intuitions. Indeed, works of science fiction can sometimes be read as containing thought experiments. I compare one especially famous thought experiment from Plato’s Republic with what I read as two thought experiments from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy. All three thought experiments concern myths used in political contexts, and comparing them (...) permits me to analyze the morality of political mythologizing. (shrink)
Ernest Lepore and Kirk Ludwig correctly observe that Donald Davidson’s account of radical interpretation is in tension with his Swampman thought experiment. Nonetheless, I argue, they fail to see the extent of Davidson’s tension—and so do not handle it adequately—because they fail to appreciate that the thought experiment pits two incompatible response-dependent accounts of meaning against one another. I take an account of meaning to be response-dependent just in case it links the meaning of terms in an a priori manner (...) to the responses that a suitable subject under suitable conditions could or did have to those terms. That Davidson proposes two such accounts is deeply problematic for his program. After explaining the sense in which Davidson endorses two incompatible response-dependent accounts of meaning, I use that explanation to resolve the tension myself. (shrink)
"Let a Kantian view of empirical truth be any view according to which the truth of empirical claim depends on the truth of non-empirical claims, because subjects (consciously or not) constitute the empirical when applying the non-empirical to experience. Historically the most important such view is Immanuel Kant’s. It is not the only. Rudolf Carnap, Thomas Kuhn, and Donald Davidson held such views. Conversely, Willard van Orman Quine’s view was contrastingly instructive. My aim is to briefly sort all this out (...) in search of lessons about the nature of empirical truth generally. Keywords: anthropocentric; ethnocentric; idiocentric; Kant; Immanuel; logocentric; truth. ". (shrink)
Kant makes two claims in the Critique of Pure Reason that anticipate concerns of twentieth-century philosophy of science. The first, that the understanding and sensibility are constitutive of knowledge, while reason is responsible for transcendental illusion, amounts to his solution to Karl Popper’s “problem” of demarcating science from pseudoscience. The second, that besides these constitutive roles of the understanding and sensibility, reason is itself needed to discover new empirical knowledge, anticipates Hans Reichenbach’s distinction between the “contexts” of justification and discovery. (...) Unlike Reichenbach, however, who thinks that there can be a “logic” only of justification, Kant provides what amounts to a logic of discovery. Though Kant’s broader concerns are not Popper’s or Reichenbach’s, using theirs as framing devices reveals two otherwise unnoticed things about the Critique of Pure Reason. First, besides its general epistemological and metaphysical aims, the Critique lays groundwork for the twentieth century’s specialized field of the philosophy of science. Second, Kant’s solution to the demarcation problem contradicts his logic of discovery, so in this instance the Critique is too ambitious. (shrink)
Philosophers’ attitudes toward the history of philosophy are mixed. Regardless, likely all philosophers interact with the history of philosophy through research, teaching, or professional life. How should they approach it? I answer by analyzing the notion of ‘history of philosophy’. I then consider prominent recent answers given by others converging with mine. I conclude that philosophers should be guided by preference and project to approach the history of philosophy by emphasizing history, philosophy, something intermediate, or both.
Recent anthologizing of Davidson’s articles from the 1980s and 1990s encourages us to reconsider arguments contained in them. One such argument is Davidson’s omniscient-interpreter argument (“OIA”) in “A Coherence Theory of Truth and Knowledge,” first published 20 years ago. The OIA allegedly establishes that it is necessary that most beliefs are true. Thus the omniscient interpreter, now 20 years old, was born to answer the skeptic. In §1 of this paper, I consider charges that the OIA establishes only that it (...) is possible that most beliefs are true; if correct, then it is also possibly the case that most beliefs are false—the skeptic’s very position. Next, I consider two responses on Davidson’s behalf, showing that each fails. In §2, I show that the OIA establishes neither that it is necessarily nor possibly but actually the case that most beliefs are true. I then conclude that this is enough to answer the skeptic. (shrink)
Contemporary discussions on the nature of time begin with McTaggart, who introduces the distinction between what he takes to be the only two possible realist theories of time: the A-theory, maintaining that past, present, and future are absolute; and the B-theory, maintaining that they are relative. McTaggart argues against both theories to conclude that time is not real. In this paper, I reconstruct his argument against the A-theory. Then, I show that this argument is flawed. Finally, I draw a lesson (...) for those engaged in contemporary discussions on the nature of time. (shrink)
Marks individually or in combination constitute images that represent objects. How do those images represent those objects? Marks vary in style, both between and within images. Images also vary in style. How do those styles relate to each other and to the objects that those images represent? Referencing a diverse range of images, we answer the first question with a response-dependence theory of image representation derived from Mark Johnston, differentiating Lockean primary qualities of marks from secondary qualities of images. We (...) answer the second question with a perceptual theory of style derived from Paul Grice, differentiating physical style from image style, and representing conventionally from representing conversationally. (shrink)
Wonder Woman's co‐creator William Marston believed that sexual bondage was key to achieving a peaceful society. Though Marston intended Wonder Woman to provide an alternative to the masculinity of the superheroes of his day, Marston's vision remains relevant today. The behavior and attitude of Marston's Wonder Woman anticipated contemporary feminist philosophers' contributions to the ethics of care. There is also an underlying ethics of care in Wonder Woman's role as what Marston calls a "Love Leader", and that combination of kink (...) and care is itself reflected in contemporary BDSM. Marston's stated goal in his academic writing was to promote "a new code of conduct, based on love supremacy". Marston's comic‐book creation, Wonder Woman, fit his depiction of an ideal Love Leader: a sexually alluring and powerful, yet loving, mistress whose feminine charms would make women and men submit to her authority. (shrink)
In this dissertation, I explore the work of Donald Davidson, reveal an inconsistency in it, and resolve that inconsistency in a way that complements a debate in philosophy of science. In Part One, I explicate Davidson's extensional account of meaning; though not defending Davidson from all objections, I nonetheless present his seemingly disparate views as a coherent whole. In Part Two, I explicate Davidson's views on the dualism between conceptual schemes and empirical content, isolating four seemingly different arguments that Davidson (...) makes against the dualism; I demonstrate that, though the arguments fail, each is ultimately meant to rely on his account of meaning. ;In Part Three, I show that Davidson's extensional account of meaning gives rise to the analytic-synthetic distinction, while simultaneously needing to reject it. I then propose a resolution to Davidson's dilemma. Rather than treating interpretation of meaning as continuous with the holistic enterprise of science, as Quine treats translation, one should treat it as conceptually prior to science, as Kant treats epistemology. Nonetheless I recognize four reasons why Davidson himself would reject doing so. I therefore propose a view called 'transcendental semantics', based on Davidson's, that accepts my resolution. Further, transcendental semantics, like Kant's own transcendental idealism, posits a single conceptual scheme; nonetheless Kant's is concerned with Newtonian physics, transcendental semantics' with interpretation. ;Finally, in Part Four, I show how positing such a scheme allows transcendental semantics to complement a promising neo-Carnapian account of theory confirmation in science proposed by Michael Friedman. Scientists are first and foremost interpreters, a fact that allows transcendental semantics to help Friedman establish the possibility of rational continuity through scientific revolutions. In fact, transcendental semantics, by complementing Friedman's project, reunites two of Carnap's own concerns, philosophy of language and philosophy of science. I conclude that philosophy of language without philosophy of science is empty , while philosophy of science without philosophy of language is blind. (shrink)
Cicovacki traces postmodernism’s subjectivism, relativism, and nihilism to Kant’s “Copernican revolution,” which granted the subject epistemic priority over the object. Nonetheless Cicovacki insists that Kant also offered an inchoate view according to which neither subject nor object has epistemic priority. Instead, on this view, truth itself becomes the harmonious interaction between subject and object. Cicovacki’s project is to flesh out and improve upon this inchoate view, offering it as an alternative to postmodernism.
W. V. Quine was arguably the most influential analytic philosopher of the twentieth century, and Roger Gibson is arguably Quine’s most accomplished commentator. These two volumes contribute to the growing work on Quine’s philosophy and its place in twentieth and now twenty-first century thought. Nonetheless, as this review makes clear, the first volume is more useful than the second.
That theme is that effects should be spatiotemporally local to their causes, and so electromagnetic and strong nuclear forces in particular cannot act at a distance. Lange’s key step in arguing for spatiotemporal locality is to argue that fields produced by these forces are ontologically real, contacting the objects causing, and affected by, those fields. In the process of his argument, Lange discusses classical, special-relativistic, and quantum mechanics, as well as metaphysical topics such as realism and causality. Lange also provides (...) a sociological critique of the sometimes inconsistent, sometimes dismissive, attitudes of some scientists and textbooks toward questions of realism. Lange generally succeeds in convincing the reader that such questions are relevant to both philosophy and physics. (shrink)
Buzaglo offers a systematic account of nonarbitrary concept expansion in mathematics. Roughly, such expansion involves taking a concept, based upon its rules of application, to apply to objects beyond its intended domain. Buzaglo’s book is directed primarily at philosophers of mathematics, though it should equally interest philosophers of science and philosophers of language and logic. It should also interest logicians and mathematicians. Though Buzaglo does not always fully rebut opposing views, he is clear that his book is meant to lay (...) the groundwork for a continuing research program. Graduate students and professional philosophers would profit from the book. (shrink)